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New BIC Partnerships in Carrboro and Marion Make Language Access a Priority

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BIC Marion Team standing together outsideTwo new Building Integrated Communities partnerships are underway in the Town of Carrboro and the City of Marion, and both places will soon have new language access plans as a result. Since May of 2023, local government staff and community leaders in Carrboro and Marion have met monthly with BIC staff to discuss good practices for providing equal access to information, services, and opportunities for community members who speak languages other than English. Carrboro and Marion BIC teams are now drafting policies and procedures for their local governments to improve communication across languages, such as for translating written materials and information, providing interpretation for meetings and phone calls with the public, identifying languages spoken in the community, and outlining how bilingual staff can use their language skills on the job. Both teams expect to have new language access plans drafted in early 2024.

Three people placing sticky notes on a scale on a tableThe Carrboro and Marion teams bring together municipal government staff and staff of community-based organizations (CBOs) who work with residents who prefer to speak languages other than English, including immigrant and refugee residents. This government-CBO partnership builds community perspectives and expertise into the language access planning process. The Refugee Community Partnership (RCP) is part of Carrboro’s BIC team. In Marion, the Centro Unido Latino-Americano (CULA) is the BIC team’s community partner. Members of RCP and CULA provide invaluable input on community priorities for language access, based on their own experiences and on their observations as trusted liaisons between local government and the communities they serve.

Throughout the summer and early fall of 2023, Carrboro and Marion’s BIC teams focused on gathering data on community demographics and on government staff’s current language access practices. These data inform what policies and procedures will go in each team’s language access plan. UNC’s BIC team compiled data from the United States Census Bureau’s American Community Survey to identify languages that Carrboro and Marion residents speak. Respondents’ ranking of their ability to speak English on a scale of “not at all” to “very well” is particularly important for language access planning. Identifying the most spoken languages and which ones have the highest percentage of people who report speaking English “less than very well” helps local governments decide which languages to prioritize for interpretation and translation. CBOs in both Carrboro and Marion have noted that, in addition to language proficiency, community members’ preferred communication methods and social media platforms matter in interacting and building relationships with government staff.

In addition to data on community languages, information about government staff’s current language access practices determines what resources and information they need to best engage with residents who speak languages other than English. Staff in all departments of Carrboro and Marion’s local governments completed a survey to identify policies, procedures, and resources they use to provide language services to residents. The survey results also point to current gaps in services and areas where staff most frequently interact with members of the public who speak languages other than English. This information guides both teams’ decisions on how to structure language services and how to best support municipal staff when their language access plans are adopted.

Both teams have already made progress toward their language access goals. The Town of Carrboro has recently reestablished its program to lend interpretation equipment to community members at no charge. It has also partnered with RCP on a major community engagement effort to survey Town residents on the proposed expansion of a local greenway.

To follow the Town of Carrboro’s progress toward a language access plan, click here. For more on Marion’s BIC project, which includes a language access plan and a youth civic engagement initiative, click here. To learn about BIC’s other efforts on building language access across North Carolina, see highlights from the Language Access Collaborative.

Written by Emily Spangenberg

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